Many cities across Canada have seen an increase in homeless encampments within their communities, and Lethbridge is no exception. In the past three years, there has been a rise in homeless encampments across the city. While every individual's situation and circumstances are unique, several contributing factors may apply to this increase, including:
- a lack of affordable and stable housing
- COVID-19 restrictions
- personal health and safety concerns
- mental health conditions
- drug addictions and the ongoing opioid crisis
- lack of connection to services and resources
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the complex social issues that come with homelessness. Due to the many contributing factors, it requires all stakeholders to come together to address solutions.
The Community Social Development (CSD) team is working with both internal and external stakeholders on a collective impact approach to improve the encampment response process.
What does that mean?
Collective impact is community leaders working together to achieve social change.
A number of initiatives are already underway, as approved in the 2019 Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy. Originally a downtown-focused initiative, the strategy has expanded citywide to become the Community Clean and Safe Strategy, to promote and diversify the reach of clean and safe strategies to make cleanliness and safety for all a priority.
Additionally, in April 2019, the CSD department at the City of Lethbridge published The Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy (CWSS), a five-year strategic plan to inform and improve community wellbeing and safety in Lethbridge.
Encampment Response Process
It is important to note that the City doesn't currently have a dedicated encampment response team. Rather, a response is coordinated through a number of services and departments. The City is formalizing roles and working to develop consistent processes for Encampment Response.
- Encampment response is triaged through the Safe Community Call Centre (SCCC), which determines the location and scope of the encampment, and dispatches outreach and cleaning services as needed.
- Prior to any scheduled encampment cleanup, outreach by the Outreach Mobile Team (OMT) is provided to individuals to connect them with services and supports.
- Some of these supports may include the CMHA's Diversion Outreach Team (DOT), which is available to provide a mobile diversion response and transportation for individuals to supports and services.
If there are safety concerns, aggressive behaviour, or illegal activity, then Lethbridge Police Services (LPS) is available for support during encampment cleaning.
New Encampment Response Initiatives
As identified in the 2022 Lethbridge City Council Action Plan, these community services initiatives will support the encampment process:
- The CMHA will be operating a new Outreach Mobile Team (OMT). The OMT provides ongoing outreach support and service referrals to the vulnerable population, specifically those living in encampments. The CMHA is currently recruiting for this role, if interested.
- The Downtown BRZ Clean Sweep Program (CSP) has begun the process of integrating encampment and biohazard clean-up as an addition to their existing services. The start date of expanded services was May 30, 2022.
- In mid-June 2022, the Safe Community Call Centre (SCCC) was transferred from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to the Public Safety Communications Centre (PSCC). The phone number will remain the same (825-399-SAFE). This transition will enhance the responsiveness and efficiency of responses to biohazard cleanup, encampment cleanup, and deployment of relevant responses (e.g. DOT; Clean Sweep Program), with 24/7 access to skilled and certified PSCC operators.
** Community LINKS can complete assessments and offer intake services for individuals who are currently unhoused or at risk of homelessness. If individuals are determined to be eligible, Community LINKS will further refer to the HomeBASE Adaptive Case Management program.
Community LINKS services are available:
- at the Lethbridge Public Library (main branch),
- at the HomeBASE office (drop-in hours), and
- throughout the community at various satellite locations.
What Can You Do?
Please click here for important phone numbers and more information on how you can help.